Scientists have discovered cells that can attack Covid-19 in the bloodstream of people who have only ever had other coronaviruses that cause colds.
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They believe this may explain why some are more severely affected by the bug than others.
However, the researchers from the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California, warn that their findings are yet to be proven outside of a laboratory.
Their study, published in the journal Cell, looked at immune cells – known as T-cells – which differ from the B-cells that produce antibodies.
Instead of latching onto the virus, T-cells provide another line of attack by targeting other infected cells.
Similarly to antibodies, they are made in response to an infection – and remain afterwards.
Dan Davis, professor of immunology at the University of Manchester, told the Times: “When a cell is infected with a coronavirus, the virus’s protein molecules are chopped up into very small pieces.
"And those small pieces are put up at the surface of the cell.
"When T-cells see these molecules that have never been in the body before they multiply, then they go and respond to those infected cells.”
When T-cells see these molecules that have never been in the body before they multiply, then they go and respond to those infected cells
The researchers, from the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California, looked at the blood of patients who had recovered from Covid-19.
They found that T-cells that they had already had in their blood responded to the new virus.
It suggests that exposure to other coronaviruses – such as the common cold or flu – had somehow primed their T cells to recognise and attack Covid-19.
The team suggest that this could influence their susceptibility to the new coronavirus, either by preventing them from getting infected or from developing severe disease.
They then looked at blood frozen in 2018 to find out if T-cells were present without Covid-19.
Alessandro Sette, who co-led the study, said: “We saw in about half of people there was activity against Sars-CoV2."
It's promising news for vaccine developers because it is "consistent with normal, good, antiviral immunity," according to Shane Crotty, from the Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research at LJI.
He said: "The types of immune responses targeted by many candidate vaccines are now shown to be the types of immune responses seen in Covid-19 cases that successfully recovered from the disease."
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